Paul Liberatore

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In Vancouver, wealthy home buyers want it all - right down to the cutlery

As Vancouver continues to draw a new category of extreme wealth to its shores, it’s become increasingly popular to sell homes completely furnished and stocked with household wares.

For the seller of any property worth around $4-million and beyond, it has become almost mandatory; the cost of doing business. For the buyer, a turnkey purchase means only having to unpack the suitcases.

Mike Courtenay, senior vice-president of developer British Pacific Properties, has seen big demand for fully stocked homes. His company has sold three show homes as is, complete with all the art and accessories. Now, they’re working on a concierge division to handle such things as stocking cupboards with pots and pans and towels. In the near future, they plan to offer house maintenance and landscaping services, on a contract basis.

It’s a new day, and a new market – with new demands.

“It’s amazing, the amount of wealth that’s coming in here, and to parts of Vancouver,” says Mr. Courtenay, who has been in the development business for more than 30 years. “I’ve worked across the Lower Mainland, but West Vancouver is an anomaly for sure.”

A British Pacific Properties townhouse sold with all furnishings included. The developer has sold three fully furnished show homes, and is now working on a concierge division to handle such things as stocking cupboards with pots and pans and towels.

British Pacific Properties is the development company of the Guinness family, who, famously, owned a massive 4,700-acre tract of land from Taylor Way to Horseshoe Bay. The British family, best known for the beer, has developed thousands of Vancouver homes since the 1930s, including the creation of the British Properties, and the Lions Gate Bridge that connected it.

They have transformed much of the acreage into parks, single-family housing, and commercial properties, including Park Royal Shopping Centre. They’ve got about 1,200 developable acres to go, in small segments, over the next 20 or 40 years, Mr. Courtenay says. They build single-family and multifamily housing, anywhere between 1,500 and 8,000 square feet.

Initially, however, the company didn’t do the building, and instead sold serviced lots off to builders and developers. But in the past 15 years, it decided to take control of what was being constructed, with a focus on housing.

“We really wanted to control what was going on the land. We were starting to see some pretty ugly stuff happening, and we wanted to get it back to where it should be,” Mr. Courtenay says.

A few years ago, Mr. Courtenay began noticing a new type of buyer, one who wanted more than just the house.

“Now, we are receiving requests to do the interior design, complete with furnishings, down to cutlery. Right now, we have two homes under way where we are supplying a totally furnished product,” he says. “We are talking homes around the $4-million mark, so not inexpensive. The furnishing and art can be around half a million.”

The company develops roughly 20 homes a year and constructs show homes “to show them our wares, basically,” Mr. Courtenay says. “And we have been getting a lot of traction from that.”

He first noticed the trend for furnished houses when buyers started hiring the company’s showroom designer to do the interior design of their new homes. And then he started getting requests.

“Gradually it morphed into, ‘Can you do it for us?’ And so we would. And we have been ever since.”

Another house sold by British Pacific Properties. The company staged the home for sale but once it sold all those furnishings were removed. However, the buyer was so impressed that he hired the same stager – Insight Design – to replicate the show house – right down to the cutlery. The home sold for $2,498,000.

The idea behind a furnished, or staged show home, is that it sells the lifestyle to the potential buyer. It appeals to them on an emotional level. Mr. Courtenay’s current show home even has private school uniforms hanging in the children’s bedroom closet.

“Part of the problem is, it’s very difficult for people to envision what the house would look like, lived in. And we do make the home feel very lived in. For instance, we furnish one of the closets with Collingwood School uniforms.”

It also appeals to a busy offshore buyer who doesn’t know their way around yet.

“They are mostly offshore, and most of these people are very busy, they own a lot of homes elsewhere in the world, and they are looking at the simplicity of having a very nicely furnished home.”

Gene Guindon and Curtis Vertefeuille, decorators at Moe’s Home Collection, estimate that business has doubled in the past couple of years because of the new, wealthy market. In recent years, the furniture retailer on Terminal Avenue has increased its staging services. It’s in high-end demand. The bulk of their staging business is in West Vancouver, Mr. Guindon says. Houses on the east side, selling for a paltry $1- to $2-million, don’t require the same attention to detail in order to sell. For those houses, it’s more a matter of decluttering, they say.

In the growing luxury market, however, the seller is expected to shell out thousands of dollars on furnishings, particularly for new homes.

“If it’s not staged, the perception is sometimes they are being cheap by not staging the home properly,” Mr. Guindon says. “It’s expected of you, once you get to a certain higher-end luxury home.”

A client can rent furniture and accessories, but the first month costs 30 per cent of the retail cost, the second month is 20 per cent and by the third month they own half of it all, anyway, so most simply purchase it, Mr. Vertefeuille says. He has recently staged both a resale condo and a new build, at smaller budgets of around $15,000 or $20,000. The buyers ended up purchasing everything.

“I think you have to invest a little bit to get the most out of what you have to offer,” he says. “I wouldn’t say staging is a cheap and easy way, but it is a quick and easy fix that might hide a few issues going on in the home.”

Adds Mr. Guindon: “When they are coming from mainland China to Vancouver, they arrive on the plane, they have their clothes and suitcase, and they will probably land at a friend’s place or a rented house or hotel. And when they make that next step to purchase, you save them the time of shopping and hiring a designer, and all that.”

Mr. Guindon guesses 80 per cent of their clients purchase the staging, which is good news for his store. Thanks to Vancouver’s booming real estate market, business has been upward for the retailer, which is a family-run Vancouver business, with stores in North Vancouver and Seattle.

And it isn’t lost on either of them that their street, Terminal Avenue, has transformed in recent years, from a light industrial boulevard into one that now has Mercedes and Porsche dealerships.

Mr. Guindon feels a part of the transformation, even though their store offers mid-range contemporary furnishings, with couches that sell for anywhere from $700 to $10,000.

“From a retail standpoint, the store is pretty much a portrait of Vancouver, in a sense. You’ll find the parking lot is filled with Porsches and BMWs. We get the more affluent customer, even though it’s still a mid-range price. People like to get a bit of a deal.”

One of their clients is Amy Tang, a real estate agent who’s made it her business to find her Chinese clients totally furnished, turnkey homes.

Ms. Tang says clients spend about $30,000 to $50,000 on furnishings in order to sell the homes.

“For the cheaper house, I don’t expect them to do it, but for the house that’s $3- or $4-million, I suggest it.”

More than half the buyers, she says, end up buying the whole package.

Real estate agent Paul Albrighton, who specializes in downtown lofts, also refers clients to Moe’s. His properties are more often in the $800,000 to $2-million range, but he has seen several clients splurge on fully furnishing their lofts in order to sell faster and get a higher return. The buyer gets a deal, too, because they usually pay only 50 to 70 per cent of the actual cost of the furniture, Mr. Albrighton says. And they also get a professionally decorated space, without having to pay for the decorator.

“When people stage a place well, a property will most likely sell faster and for a higher price, so often the investment of buying nice furnishings will be worth selling the items off at a discount,” says Mr. Albrighton.


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